Self-Love (What’s that?)

“You never want a good crisis to go to waste.” -Rahm Emanuel

The months of January through March were really difficult for me; I was going through a lot of personal stress.  Think applying to 20 graduate programs (don’t ask how much it cost – it’s a sore subject), spending 50-60 hours a week at work a job I am no longer interested in, having a mini health crisis, and working through a lot of self-doubt all at the same time.  Then add in the fact that winter is the worst, and you have an embarrassingly high ratio of days I cried to days I did not cry (for those who don’t know me well, I have a very low threshold for what might elicit tears).

During this period, I was seeing a chiropractor who has a deck of 52 cards at her front desk with inspirational quotes on the front and back.  Her explanation of these cards is something like this: “Center yourself, shuffle them up, and you’ll pull the one that you need!”  In the middle of February, I pulled a card that, considering all of the self-doubt I was experiencing, was genuinely what I needed to hear the most in that exact moment.  On the front, it said “Loving others is easy when I love and accept myself.”  I took a picture of it so I wouldn’t forget it and it has been the mantra that has been guiding me through these past few months.

I experienced a defining moment a couple of weeks ago that involved listening to my intuition and making a decision I believe was necessary to help me learn to love myself without validation from anyone else.  It was incredibly difficult and I seriously doubted myself in my choice.  The Tuesday immediately following this “defining moment”, I was at the chiropractor and as per usual, I picked a card while I was paying for my adjustment.  I [expletive] you not, I pulled the same side of the same card that had been on my mind so much for the past few months.  It helped reassure me that I was acting in a way that aligned with my end goal –consistent, conscious happiness — and provided me a bit of needed peace.

This Thursday, I was back at the chiropractor and I started telling her and her office manager about the card coincidence while I was shuffling the cards (to which she said “There is no such thing as a coincidence”).  Just as she asked “What card was it that you picked?”, I split the deck and there was the same quote staring up at me.  So here’s my conclusion.  Either:

a. My chiropractor is a magician

b. The person who created the deck of cards was lazy and put the same quote on multiple cards (I will investigate this further at my next appointment).

c. In choosing the card a second and third time, I experienced a very, very low-likelihood coincidence.  (There are 52 cards with 2 sides each.  That makes 104 different possibilities.  My draws were independent of each other, so that makes for a (1/104) x (1/104) = .00009 probability of drawing that same side twice in a row – thank you Math 4600.)

d.  There is something in the universe (call it God, call it the connection between us all, call it positive energy, call it whatever you’d like) that really wants this message to stick with (5)

Color me crazy, but I’m going with D.  Before this happened, I figured that practical, easy to implement ideas for self-advancement were the best place to start for this blog.  I had a whole post formulated for today about how I’ve been working on keeping my living space clean in order to promote a sense of calm within myself.  It’s probably good that I am delaying that post though, because I had an organization relapse this week (see below).  But I’d like to agree with my chiropractor that there is no such thing as a coincidence; I’ll take it as a sign that I need to first really get a handle on what I’m working towards before I bombard you all with the scientific benefits of meditation, how to steadily build healthy habits, and the like.

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As far as I see it, there are two kinds of happiness: sustainable happiness and situational happiness.  The root of sustainable happiness is self-love and acceptance, or living at peace with yourself (for those who are religious, this is akin to living out your faith), while the root of situational happiness is (presumably) our current situation.  Here’s my definition of self-love:

Self-Love – n.  understanding what you value and believe in and then doing your best to act in a way that aligns with this sense of self, given your resources

Up until recently, I had been focused on situational happiness.  Anyone who knows me will know I am the poster child for living off of this kind of happiness; I always have to have something fun planned.  To put it bluntly, I am a social planning maniac: Braves games, weekend road trips, weeknight trivia, walks around the park, happy hours, breweries, and for that matter really anything that involves day-drinking.  But guess what?  It’s not sustainable (I’m sure anyone with children can vouch for that), and I learned that very abruptly during the first three months of this year.

Which brings me to the quote: “You never want a good crisis to go to waste.”  I came across it in a book called The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.  That quote is referring to the fact that our habits are most malleable when we are facing something, like a crisis, that has pushed us out of our comfort zone and forced us to reevaluate our situation and choices.  It is somewhat of a counterpart to the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  Hitting a personal low during the first three months of this year was the “crisis” that I needed to instigate change; I have a pretty strong incentive, fresh in my memory, to find a source of sustainable, consistent happiness before I ever have to experience that amount of stress again (i.e. when my dissertation rolls around).

But you know what I can tell you from my experience?  It’s pretty damn impossible to patch a hole in the bottom of a boat during a hurricane.  If I could go back, I would have figured all of this out a long time ago.  So I hope that someone else can learn from my experiences.  I can guarantee that your entire life will not be smooth sailing.  You may even bring the storm upon yourself.  So do yourself a favor and figure out what is going to provide you sustained happiness before that happens.  Ask yourself “What defines me?“, “What do I believe in and value?” and “What is stopping me from acting in a way that aligns with my values?“.  That way, if your boat sinks, you will at least have the life vest of knowing that you can only control your own actions and reactions, you are doing the best you possibly can, and you are satisfied with your own choices.  

For me, the issue was that I have always had an idealized standard of how I want to live and how I think people should treat each other, but the way my brain was wired did not allow me to live these out.  My insecurities make me selfish and needy, my anxiety makes me inefficient and forgetful, and my perfectionism makes me act in ways that does not align with my best interest.  So here I am, post crisis, starting from scratch to work out the issues I want to overcome.  I cannot emphasize enough how much I am talking about starting truly from the beginning.  Treating every single day like an experiment, trying things in new ways that I never have before, and asking myself at the end of the day, “Did that improve my well being?“.

I’m going to have days where I “fail” (my messy room is a good example).  This relates to the part of my self-love definition where I allude to “given your resources”; there will be times when I face a ton of constraints (lack of time, money, etc), and other times it will feel like the world has been laid at my feet.  But the important part is deciding that situational happiness is not enough to fulfill me and doing everything in my power to find the strength to live in line with my values.  That’s all I can control, and that is enough.

What is standing in the way of your sustainable happiness?  Maybe you’re 10 steps ahead of me and you’ve already cleared the path for yourself (if so – please email me all of the advice. Seriously though…).  But if not, it’s time to start experimenting.

I’m going to end every post with “What I’m Grateful for this Week” (to remind you to practice gratitude) and “Stupid Things I Did This Week” (to remind you that no one’s life is as great as it appears on social media).

What I’m Grateful for this Week

photo (6)1. Learning that I am allowed to wear tennis shoes to work

2. Putting on the Ritz and attending my first horse race

3. Resigning (goodbye actuarial science!) and all of my coworkers for being so supportive and wonderful

4. Learning how to make sushi with a couple people that I love

5. Wednesday night trivia

Stupid Things I Did This Week

1. Learned that I am allowed to wear tennis shoes to work 6 months after everyone else learned this, due to my lack of both paying attention to emails and observational astuteness

2. Forgot that I was dog-sitting (as in, got a text from the woman I was supposed to be dog-sitting for 6 hours after I was supposed let her dogs out at lunch time letting me know that I “must not have seen the envelope with the money in it” – I’m still really sorry MAB!)

3. Ate a chip taco (as in, white bread with potato chips tucked in the middle and rolled up like a taco – ick).  I’m blaming the mimosas and lack of available food.

4.  Asked a coworker on the elevator this morning where he went to undergrad (I first met him at a UGA alumni happy hour).


Consciously Choosing Joy

“Behaving habitually takes no effort at all – no conscious awareness means no free will need be exerted.” -Dr. Joe Dispenza, D.C.

I have spent the majority of my life on auto-pilot.  I have been blessed with supportive parents, a fantastic group of friends, intelligence, (debatably) a good sense of humor, and good looks (perhaps other than my complete lack of cleavage).  I have only been yelled at once in my entire life and I am the epitome of the girl Brooks and Dunn refer to when they sing, “She got an A in math and never cracked the book”.  Even with a wonderful setup for life, I have dealt with bouts of unjustified unhappiness my entire life.  While I consider myself incredibly lucky in terms of the sum of my past experiences, I still find myself battling anxiety, self-doubt, and fear when I step back and start to think about what my purpose in life is.

And so based on the facts, I was forced to realize that I am doing something wrong.  Herein lies the problem: I did not realize that I am responsible for my own happiness until last year.  I know that most people will read that and think that I sound like an insane person.  It took me until 22 years old to realize that I am responsible for myself (I would like to pin this on “only child syndrome”, but that wouldn’t be fair to my parents).  Regardless of the source, it is how my life panned out and cost me multiple relationships and countless moments of sadness.  While I believe it’s probably not very common for someone to develop without any source of inner fulfillment, I think that many of us do not realize how much power we truly have to choose joy for ourselves.

I am starting this blog because I do not want anyone to ever have to feel how I have felt on my worst days.  I want to provide helpful hints and tips to empower anyone who wants to feel happier on a daily basis.  I’m going back to graduate school to get my PhD in Law & Economics and I firmly believe in maximizing utility*.  I know that there are plenty of other people out there who, like me, have the resources at their fingertips to live a happy life, but do not understand how to break free from their emotional addictions and become the best versions of themselves.  Society will benefit if even one person begins to alter his or her day-to-day mindset and habits in favor of compassion and bliss, so I hope I can provide support to others as I make that transition myself.

Gratitude as a Basis for Joy 

I want to start off by encouraging a simple, easy change that I have implemented into my nightly routine.  My parents gave me a gratitude journal for my birthday a few years ago, but I didn’t start using it regularly until I went through a breakup about a year and a half ago.  I made it a practice to write down 5 things that I was grateful for every night.  I found that it was a good crutch during a hard time; I was able to shift my nightly thoughts towards everything that I had enjoyed during each day.

However, even more importantly, I’ve realized that the value it added to my life was not the band-aid it provided when life was difficult.  It added significantly more value in the way that it subtly shifted my mindset.  I find myself thinking more logically anytime something bad happens to me.  When something doesn’t go my way, I can more easily recognize that it is not a big deal and that there are so many beautiful things in the world to focus my energy on instead of dwelling in negativity.  Before I started this practice, I intellectually understood that having the mindset I have come to adopt would be a healthier, happier way to live.  I wanted it for myself but I couldn’t figure out how to get there.  The reason the gratitude journal is so effective is that it is easy and routine.  It takes 5 minutes and the only challenge it presents is that sometimes I have to get out of bed to find a pen.  It has taught me that if you want to change your life, you have to start by making simple changes in your habits.  You can build from there, but you have to start small.

So looking back at this weekend, I am grateful for:

1. Saturday morning pub crawls

2. Afternoon front yard naps (complete with no alarm) –

3. The Atlanta Braves

4. Having the courage to start a blog

5. A great Sunday night dinner with my parents

There have been difficult days when I did not have anything I felt like writing down other than “being alive”.  The important part isn’t the things on the list, it’s the mindset with which you embrace them.

Here is a link to the one I use – I hope someone finds it helpful!

*In economics, the concept of maximizing value while minimizing inputs (getting the “most bang for your buck”)